9 Bizarre Superhero Movies People Forgot About For Good Reason

Flash Gordon

These days, it may be hard to imagine that there was a time when superhero movies didn’t dominate the box office. In reality, for many years, superhero movies were seen as risky, oddball properties, giving rise to a wide array of titles like Buckaroo BanzaiFlash GordonThe Meteor ManToxic AvengerBlankmanThe Guyver, and many others. 

Some of these earlier super films managed to break into the mainstream, but many more remained obscure – often because they were just too deeply weird to ever penetrate the public consciousness. While superhero movies today tend to come from major studios, many of these earlier films were one-off projects from smaller companies or forgotten hopes to begin franchises that never launched. Whatever the reason, each of these superhero flicks thrive off the beaten path.

1. The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

Not based on any existing comic book series, polymath hero Buckaroo Banzai – and his adventures – are instead the creation of novelist Earl Mac Rauch. Made into a 1984 cult favorite starring Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, and many others, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is as weird as its title.

While some audiences can fully indulge the absurdity as Buckaroo Banzai battles interdimensional aliens, others may find the nutty nature of the film too hard to swallow. The film never crossed over into mainstream popularity, in spite of its massive cult success. Probably doesn’t help that it initially underperformed at the box office, making back only a fraction of its budget.

2. The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger

Troma is a studio most closely associated with producing incredibly weird shlock that normal people have never even heard of. That said, The Toxic Avenger, a 1984 film about a nebbish janitor who becomes a hulking, mutated superhero after exposure to toxic waste, is certainly their most well-known property.

The Toxic Avenger went on to produce several sequels, an animated series, and a toy line – in spite of the movie featuring all the usually inappropriate trappings of a Troma production. Its success is relative, though, and wider audiences may have had trouble with the hero’s unappealing appearance. Since then, The Toxic Avenger remains a weirdo among superhero films.

3. Mystery Men

Mystery Men

Loosely adapted from a comic book called Flaming Carrot, there was never any scenario in which Mystery Men wasn’t going to be one of the weirder superhero movies out there. The story follows a group of superheroes with mediocre powers who are forced to step up when the more-impressive hero who typically overshadows them is captured.

Mystery Men isn’t lacking in acting talent, with the cast including Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, Tom Waits, and many more. Together with director Kinka Usher, they create a gaudy, camp hit that was never going to make it into the mainstream, but enjoys a small and deserved cult following.

4. Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck

Audiences today are most likely to recognize Howard the Duck from his cameos in films like Guardians of the Galaxy. But many may not be aware that Howard, with his surprisingly competent martial-arts abilities, actually beat most of Marvel’s menagerie of superheroes to the big screen. Back in 1986, George Lucas produced a very unlikely film starring the anthropomorphic duck, which was actually the first theatrical feature film to star any Marvel character (though Captain America had starred in a serial back in the ‘40s).

Howard the Duck did not perform well at the box office, and drew criticism for a tone that didn’t work and poor performances, as well as the poor special effects used to bring Howard to life. Though it has an off-putting sort of charm, it’s not hard to understand why a film about an anthropomorphic duck who, at one point, nearly has sex with a human woman, avoided mainstream success.

5. Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

A space adventure comic strip from the 1930s might seem like an odd source for a 1980 adventure film, until you remember that the first Star Wars movie had hit screens just a few years before. Updating and revising Alex Raymond’s original comic strip (Flash is now a football quarterback, rather than a polo player, for example), the film is notorious for its campy aesthetics and garish costumes, but is probably best known for its soundtrack by rock band Queen.

Though Flash Gordon developed a loyal cult following (and was said to have been a favorite of real-life queen Elizabeth II) it obviously never attained the same sort of breakout success as Star Wars – for perhaps equally obvious reasons.

6. Super


These days, James Gunn is well-known for superhero movies, thanks to his directing Guardians of the GalaxyThe Suicide Squad, and now pretty much running the movie arm of DC. Back in 2010, though, Gunn was better known for bizarre fare like Tromeo and Juliet or Slither. Between Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy, in fact, Gunn tried his hand at a very different kind of superhero flick, one that shares more in common with his weirdo indie roots.

Super boast a stacked cast, including Rainn Wilson, Elliot Page, and Kevin Bacon, but its story of a short order cook who becomes a homemade superhero called “The Crimson Bolt” after receiving what he believes is a vision from God is filled with off-the-wall shenanigans not seen in most blockbusters. The vibe feels indie through and through, with edgy content like extreme violence, sexual assault, and plenty of inappropriate behavior, which likely is why Super remains a fringe flick.

7. Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

It’s weird to think that at one point Swamp Thing had as many live-action movies as Batman, but it’s true. In 1982, none other than Wes Craven was responsible for bringing DC’s muck-encrusted hero to the screen for the first time. It was Craven’s fourth feature film, and his hit A Nightmare on Elm Street was still two years away. 

In spite of a minuscule budget and some very dodgy special effects, Swamp Thing had some legs, especially on home video and cable, and gave rise to a sequel, a live-action TV series, an animated feature, and a toy line. After this brief time in the spotlight, however, this flick mostly remains as isolated and esoteric as its central hero.

8. Darkman


Given a lot of the rest of his cinematic output, it should probably come as no surprise that Sam Raimi’s take on the superhero story is also his love letter to the Universal film monsters. Raimi conceived the character of Darkman when he was unable to obtain rights to make a movie with The Shadow; the central hero loses his ability to feel pain after surviving a terrible accident, and also gains adrenaline-charged super-strength as a bonus. 

Darkman was a commercial success when it was released, spawning two direct-to-video sequels, several comic books, even novels and a video game. However, the film has been largely overshadowed by some of Raimi’s other work, in spite of having an early-career Liam Neeson in the lead. Which is a shame, because even if it’s not as mainstream as Spider-Man or Doctor StrangeDarkman certainly deserves a second look.

9. Faust: Love Of The Damned

Faust: Love Of The Damned

Adapted from a comic book notorious for its depictions of sexual situations and grisly violence, Faust: Love of the Damned was never going to be a mainstream hit – especially with weirdo director Brian Yuzna (SocietyBride of Re-Animator) at the helm. In a hero/horror blend, this movie takes inspiration from the traditional tale of Faust with John Jaspers (Mark Frost), who transforms into a devil after being buried alive and escaping from Hell.

Winner of the award for Best Special Effects at the Sitges International Film Festival, Faust is, in many ways, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the hit indie comic, complete with demons, Faustian deals, striking monsters, and lots of sex and violence. While those dark elements make for a transgressive thrill, they’re not exactly tickets to mainstream acceptance.